US To Require Negative Test Results For Inbound Travelers

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has expanded its requirement for testing to all passengers coming to the United States. Going into effect from January 26th, passengers will need to have proof of a negative test on departure.

Aircraft at LAX
All inbound US travelers will need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 viral test from January 26th onwards. Photo: Getty Images

Tests required for all inbound travelers

Starting January 26th, the CDC is mandating all inbound travelers to the United States to have a negative viral test result before the departure to the United States. A viral test is defined as a test for current infection, such as a nasal swab PCR test.

The test must be taken within three days before the flight departs for the US. In order to board the plane, passengers must provide written documentation of the test result to the airline. This can be a paper or electronic copy. For those who were infected with COVID-19, passengers will need to provide documentation of having recovered from the virus.

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Passengers need to have a negative test result before boarding their flight. Photo: Getty

Airlines will need to confirm the negative test result for all passengers or documentation before boarding. If a passenger does not provide documentation or chooses not to take a test, the CDC has advised that airlines must deny boarding.

There is precedent for this. After the UK announced a new strain had been found in its infected population, the state of New York worked with airlines to mandate testing for flights. This would later be expanded to cover all UK passengers heading to the US.

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Why now?

For nearly a year, the United States has not had a blanket mandate for COVID-19 testing prior to travel to the country. Since late-December, new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus have emerged around the world, with evidence of increased transmissibility of some variants.

The US highlighted the surge in COVID-19 cases as another reason for mandating testing before arrival. Also, airline passengers will need to adhere to mandates from carriers, such as wearing a mask.

CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield stated the following:

“Testing does not eliminate all risk, but when combined with a period of staying at home and everyday precautions like wearing masks and social distancing, it can make travel safer, healthier, and more responsible by reducing spread on planes, in airports, and at destinations.”

What this means for the travel industry

US airlines have long advocated for testing as a means of opening up borders. The issue has been that there was never a national testing requirement or strategy in the United States. Some states, like Hawaii and New York, charted their own paths with mandated testing. Others just let it be.

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The testing mandate does not extend to domestic passengers, only inbound international travelers. Photo: Getty Images

International travel comes with plenty of risks right now. Testing requirements are popping up across the world or are becoming more complex. For example, in some places, passengers need to test before and after arrival and adhere to a specified quarantine period.

It remains to be seen how airlines react. For US travelers heading internationally, trying to secure a test in a foreign country may dissuade some from traveling.

No other travel restrictions are currently being lifted. Foreign nationals coming from places like the UK, Ireland, Schengen Area, Brazil, and other countries are still barred from entry, even with the CDC’s testing announcement. US airlines have petitioned for the end of these travel restrictions.

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US carriers have been trying to get Washington to introduce entry requirements that will allow for more people to travel but require them to provide proof of a negative test result before arrival. Photo: Getty Images

For those who are not fans of the new testing requirement, this is unlikely to change. Even with the formal transition of power planned to President Biden and his team from January 20th, six days before the testing mandate goes into effect, President Biden has shown no indication of seeking to remove testing mandates for US-bound travelers.

For how long the CDC-mandated testing stays in effect, however, remains to be seen. Vaccine distribution continues across the globe, but there are not nearly enough people vaccinated to be able to reopen borders and engage in international travel.

Are you glad to see the CDC mandate testing for US-bound travelers? Let us know in the comments!